In the next years, NASA and other space agencies will head towards other planets in our Solar System. What we know is that NASA plans to also send a mission to Venus and learn more about its history. They will try to find out if the planet once had liquid water and life on its surface.
To achieve this goal, NASA partnered with Black Swift Technologies. The company specializes in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and they will build a drone to survive in the upper atmosphere of the planet. NASA will award them a contract for a Venus aerial drone if the designs prove to be up for the future task.
Until now, climate models indicated that Venus, like Mars, may have had liquid water on its surface sometime in the past. Almost 2 billion years ago, the planet might have had a shallow ocean covering much of its surface. The greenhouse effect might have dried the ocean and turn the world into a hot hell.
NASA’s Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory studied Venus and believe that there could be microbial life harbored in the top of the planet’s clouds. This is how sending aerial drones to Venus could help with discovering if there really are traces of organic life or if water was once on the planet’s surface.
Exploring Venus’ Clouds
The co-founder of Black Swift Technologies Jack Elston explained what NASA wants from an aerial drone:
“They’re looking for vehicles to explore just above the cloud layer. The pressure and temperatures are similar to what you’d find on Earth, so it could be a good environment for looking for evidence of life. The winds in the upper atmosphere of Venus are incredibly strong, which creates design challenge.”
The company needs to create a drone that can use the winds to keep it flying and reduce the amount of electricity needed to fly. Until now NASA awarded a six-month contract to Black Swift Technologies to design the drone according to their specifications. The contract consisted of a $125,000 grant given by the federal governments’ research program – Small Business Innovation.
The program encourages “domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.” With this money, the company will get more staff and build the drone fit to be sent to Venus.
Elston explained that if NASA likes “what we’ve come up with, they’ll fund another two-year project to build prototypes. That second-phase contract is expected to be worth $750,000.”
Was “Earth’s Sister Planet” a habitable planet like ours? NASA could finally find out the answer.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.